Photographs by Constance Larrabee
Southern Africa, 1936-1949: Photographs by Constance Stuart Larrabee

A young man watching a dance, a group of people waiting for a train, a woman hanging laundry out to dry-such are the ordinary events captured in the extraordinary images in Southern Africa, 1936-1949: Photographs by Constance Stuart Larrabee. The exhibition features 79 black-and-white photographs that depict activities of daily life, ceremonies, and political events during a tumultuous period in the history of South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana.

Born in England in 1914, Larrabee studied photography in London and in Munich, where she learned the basic tenets of her modernist style, such as dramatic contrasts, sharp lines, lush textures, and expressive silhouettes. In 1936, she opened the Constance Stuart Portrait Studio in Pretoria, South Africa, and in 1944, during World War II, she became South Africa's first female war correspondent in Europe. She returned to South Africa in 1945, where she continued to work until moving to the United States in 1949. Constance Stuart Larrabee died in Chestertown, Maryland on July 27, 2000 at the age of 85.

Southern Africa was divided into three sections, the first of which, "Observing Life in the Countryside," includes several portraits of people from various groups, such as the Ndebele, Sotho, Lovedu, and San. This section also presented a selection of images of the Nagmaal (Holy Communion), a quarterly religious and social gathering of rural Afrikaners.

"Witnessing History in Southern Africa" included a 1948 photograph of Prime Minister Daniel François Malan (1874-1959), who implemented apartheid, the system of racial segregation and exploitation that remained legally intact until 1994. This section also presented a portfolio of images inspired by Alan Paton's novel Cry the Beloved Country (1948), which described the harsh lives of those suffering under segregation.

"Depicting Life in the City and Mines" featured scenes from Johannesburg and townships near Johannesburg, Kimberley, and Cape Town. In addition to photographs of miners in their spartan quarters, other images showed the victims of segregation proceeding with their lives as best they can: worshiping, reading, washing clothes, or dancing at a community center.

The exhibition featured modern silver gelatin prints made from the original negatives. The curator was Christraud M. Geary, head of the museum's Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives.

This Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition toured from 2000-2003.





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